Tag Archives: Workplace

Policy & Procedures: Do organizations really mean it?

The second half of the 20th century brought with it a start to revolutionary changes in organizational management styles. Emphasis started being given to proper management structures where a concept of shared ownership was developed and policies opened the top managements’ doors for everyone at the workplace. Management suddenly became a science and terms like data mining, forecasting, and decision analysis etc. became the talk of the town. Business had new rules- rules that were governed by the principles set by management theories. Systems, structures and frameworks had started being developed and/ or adopted. A new breed of professionals emerged onto the scene and they called themselves ‘Consultants’. They would help organizations open up their eyes to see what was happening in the outside world. This awakening though would cost organizations fortunes. But, companies felt it was the need of the hour and in some cases, an ‘in’ thing to hire a consultant and have systems implemented. There was a small problem to all of this though- humans.

I participated in a training in Osaka back in 2012 which was a trainer’s trainer course for the Management Training Program (MTP). What struck me the most in Japan was an astonishing contrast. It was a contrast between understanding human beings and implementing strong systems. For many, it may not come across as a contrast. It may not even come across as relevant for a few. But what was interesting for me to observe was the presence of such strong and robust systems and infrastructures in every field and walk of life there and yet the heart of the management training program was to understand human beings better. I think this is because of the underlying fact that all systems and policies are useless until those upon whom these policies have an effect on are understood completely encompassing every facet of their personalities. Human psychology is a complex subject and those who are students of this subject would agree to me on that. Every human being is a different person, with different needs, reactions and patterns of thinking. And to categorize them is a task that only has a start and no definite end to it.

Frameworks and policies therefore fail to take on a robust shape in countries like ours where importance is given to personalities more than the system itself. How many times have we seen organizations that are run on a system that completely depends on one or two individuals who are sitting at the helm of affairs?
It is actually unfair to call this kind of setting a ‘system’ in the first place. These are work environments where educated, qualified professionals boast about the prevalent management theories of their times or maybe even those that are predicted for the times to come. Yet, in effect, their own organizations or departments lack seriousness in the very same areas. Systems and structures are merely used as disposable tools for short term benefits that are often even limited to personal gains instead of organizational advantage.

Change is the only thing that is consistent in these kind of organizations. The primary reason behind this is the on-going violation of policies in the name of amendments/ enhancements. The interesting part is that this is led/ allowed from the top. Policies and systems in such organizations are intentionally set on weak foundations so that the same can be used against personnel by putting the blame on them for certain failures. I have seen policies that have room for exceptional cases ending up being used in way that it becomes difficult for one to distinguish between a rule and exception. Policies that are already made flexible are stretched to greater lengths and in many cases even revised frequently in order to entertain items on the wish list of those who disagree with what their predecessors had been doing- even if that means overwhelming any good practices. Dependence on institutional memory instead of concrete systems is not something that organizations should be proud of.

In this time, it is considered shameful for someone to concede that any of the work done by their predecessors was correct and on-track. This is basically because of the pressures ineffably and sometimes even explicitly put on new comers when bringing them on-board. These pressures push individuals to either re-brand the system that was already in place (discrediting all the work previously done) or start all over again reinventing the wheel. They need to do this in order to please egos of the people sitting at C-level positions in organizations who actually brought them on-board in the first position. It is sad but true.

From modern organizational management styles to pleasing egos, the work environment of many organizations specially in the sub-continent has generally deteriorated over time and systems and frameworks only serve the purpose of pleasant visual professional packaging and sometimes helps the organization get by compliance issues. Theories keep pouring in everyday and most of them may also be effective in reality. However, if there is a will to make a difference, one must adopt a mindset where scopes are defined, systems are strengthened and structures are allowed to mature and be followed. This requires consistency on both personal and professional levels and a control over one’s will to mold the system as per his/ her personal desires. Maybe that is what the world generally calls ‘professionalism’.

Hammad A. Mateen

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Motivation v Performance: An honest perspective

I see many professionals, team leaders and managers ask what seems to be a very important question to them: How do we keep our teams motivated? For several years, I kept asking this question myself. I asked this question from my mentors, I asked it from my colleagues, and I even asked this from my team members themselves. But somehow, no answer has convinced me so far in a way that I could witness actual results. It’s probably because in my opinion, I do not consider team motivation and team performance as two independent elements.

Team motivation almost compulsorily needs to reflect in team performance and that sometimes is not the case when motivation is mistaken for ‘always keeping the team happy’. Motivation and happiness without a shade of doubt have a correlation but very honestly put, this connection is only as strong as the results produced. Managers may experiment with the order of sequence in which the two work and may even compliment one with the other simultaneously but the fact of the matter is that performance will always outweigh motivation whenever looked at from a perspective of comparison.

 

As also mentioned above, motivation may at times be mistaken with the contentment of the team members. I used the term ‘mistaken’ here because for a lot of employees, contentment comes with complacency attached to it. Although these are essentially two different things but this is not how it is generally perceived especially when it comes to setting work-related goals. Average employees like myself are in search for job contentment and what this sometimes means deep down inside is the desire to work in an environment that does not challenge our competence in a critical manner.

The word ‘challenge’ when used in the present tense usually represents a situation or circumstances that we have chosen for ourselves knowingly and intentionally. Take a closer look at the situation and you will realize that there is very little in it that deserves to be called ‘challenging’ but since it was our desire to take it on, no matter how small a task it is, in our minds, it is a ‘challenge’. The same word though, when used in the past tense would usually represent a situation that was imposed upon one with him/ her not really wanting to be part of it. We only proudly call it a challenge once we somehow survive it and look back at it with a grin on the face. Otherwise, it is just a ‘demotivating’ task assigned by the boss with a single point agenda that is to set us up for failure and ruin our careers.

So it all comes down to being motivated in the present and producing results at the same time. For this, the only person with the power to lift you up and prepare you to face any challenge (real one) that comes your way is none other than your very own self. A good boss or leader can only add fuel to your fire. Believe it or not, NO ONE can ignite your passion but you. An exceptional leader will utilize even a single spark in you and turn it into fire but that first spark needs to come from within. A spark that comes from the belief that you have in what you do. And if you don’t have that- you’re probably in the wrong place.

So there’s no single answer or method to keeping your team motivated. It depends on the team as much as on the team leader to create an environment that yields positivity and is free from unnecessary carping. A great lesson (one that hit my right in the face) which I learnt from one of my professional mentors was when he told me, “Your appreciation for work is what you get transferred into your bank account on the first day of every new month. If you want more praise, do more than what you are getting paid for already.”

Although harsh but I guess that sums up pretty much everything.

Hammad A. Mateen

Good Boss

Like any other professional who’s worked in different organizations, I have also had my fair share of bosses; both good and bad (I wish I could simplify it like how people stereotype the Taliban by asking, “Taliban are Taliban, what do you mean ‘Good’ Taliban and ‘Bad’ Taliban?”). So Yes, I do believe there are good bosses and bad bosses and based on the little professional experience I have gained so far, I can quite clearly highlight the attributes of a good boss and the reasons why generally all workplaces require at least one good boss around.

Here are a few:

Being Authentic

The most important attribute a good boss can have is authenticity towards his/ her sub-ordinates. This may sting a few times but will keep everyone at the workplace at check and aware of their actual performance as opposed to a self-perceived performance; a reality check if I may call it. I know I’m starting to sound like every authentic feedback coming from a boss towards their sub-ordinates is negative but that’s not the case. An authentic feedback may and should equally be positive whenever required. What a good boss does however is to remain honest to him/herself also and make sure whatever feedback they give out to the sub-ordinate is for the betterment of both the sub-ordinate and the organization for which both of them are working. A good boss is NEVER biased (did you notice the word ‘never’ having all capital letters?)

Ownership

If there’s anything as important as being authentic to your sub-ordinates, it’s ownership. In fact, it is ownership that drives everything else at a workplace. A good boss owns every little detail related to his area of supervision. From making sure that the quality of work remains excellent at all times till turning off the lights after work if anyone has left them on mistakenly; from ensuring that deadlines are met for all tasks till noticing dust on a sub-ordinate’s desk, good bosses have the quality of ownership in themselves and they practice it effortlessly and tirelessly all the time.

I DIDN’T want it myself, but it’s coming from the top

An important part of ownership displayed from a boss (in case of middle managers especially) is owning the decisions they make. Let’s not talk about what bad bosses do, but good bosses generally have the guts to face the reaction of what is apparently an unpopular decision at first and then explain the reasons behind taking the particular decision to their subordinates in an open and confident manner. Wait a minute, why would a good boss take decisions that are unpopular (even apparently)? Well, that’s why they are called ‘Good’ bosses. It’s easy to take and own decisions that are popular among masses, however taking bold decisions (especially ones that involve change) are difficult to take. And then bringing the whole team on the same page afterwards is also something that ain’t a walk in the park. A good boss never blames it on the higher/ top management. If he/ she doesn’t agree to the decision, they oppose it and defend their teams in front of the top management with all they’ve got but at the end of the day, they either come out convinced themselves or having convinced the top management.

I’m listening

All good bosses are very good listeners and open to suggestions and more importantly change. You can tell if he/ she is a good boss when they close the lid of their laptop and give you their full attention when you go up to them and talk.  It doesn’t end at listening though, good bosses would implement suggestions/ take action immediately if something worth implementing is suggested to them even from a sub-ordinate.

Let me show you how

The part which is THE BEST in every good boss; he/ she knows how it’s done! At times comfort and at times embarrassment for the sub-ordinates, but it is largely comforting having this at the back of their minds that the boss knows the details of what is being done and also understands the complications and problems which may arise in a particular piece of work. A good boss also becomes a role model, mentor and teacher this way for their sub-ordinates.

You can do it! And don’t worry even if you can’t

Confidence is an important feeling to have, especially at work, and the best person to make sure you have that feeling in you is your boss. A good boss will push you to the limits but will also encourage you and give you the confidence that you can do it. Making mistakes is part of the game, but a good boss will make sure they make it clear to you that they understand that. Good bosses always give their sub-ordinates confidence to go through with a task and are also lenient to a reasonable extent.

Team dinner tonight!

A good boss will socialize with his/ her team and make sure informal team meetings become a source of burying hatchets between sub-ordinates who do not go along very well with each other. Socializing and taking out time for the team beyond working hours also motivates team members and helps them understand and come to the same wavelength with their superior.

Why haven’t you gone on vacations yet?

Believe it or not, a good boss would make sure his/ her sub-ordinates avail their vacations on time and they do not get horrified during vacations by seeing “Incoming Call: Boss” on their cell phone screens.

Instilling all good qualities in sub-ordinates

A good boss may have all of the qualities mentioned above, but the cherry on the cake is that the same kind of attitude and qualities become common in all team members/ sub-ordinates and this automatically results in great succession planning if continued for longer durations of time.

A good boss generally has relationships with his sub-ordinates that are beyond professional (in an inspiring manner). A good boss is a good friend, guide, philosopher and an honest critic.

Hammad A. Mateen